Victor Roudometof, President of the University of Cyprus’ Faculty Labor Union
Historically, Cyprus lacked its own public universities; the first public university was the University of Cyprus, founded in the early 1990s. By 2007, two other universities were added: the Technological University of Cyprus, which focuses on more applied fields of study and the Open University of Cyprus, which offers distance education. In general, between 1993 and 2012 the public universities enjoyed a period of growth; and were able to attract qualified academics from all over the world. In contrast to public universities, the island’s private universities offer considerably lower salaries for staff and heavier teaching loads.
The post-2008 crisis has had an extensive impact upon the landscape of higher education in Cyprus, especially after the passing of the 2011 legislation, the March 2013 EU-imposed “bail in” and the subsequent austerity program. In particular, the 2011 legislation implemented extensive salary cuts and created a two-tied system, whereby those in the lower ranks (lectures and assistant professors) were deprived of money and social security benefits. By 2013, the Cyprus’ parliament forced further salary cuts on senior faculty members, by eliminating the position bonus offered to them as part of their appointment to their respective positions. More than one hundred academics have filed a lawsuit against this decision to Cyprus’ High Court. The case is still pending. Between 2011 and 2013, the various cumulative cuts shrunk salaries between 20 and 45%, depending upon academic rank, salary range and years of service. Up to that point, academic salaries were on a pair with US average academic salaries, and that was a major factor that contributed to the public universities’ ability to operate competitively in the world’s academic market. In the summer of 2014, new legislative initiatives were introduced that would declare the lower ranking faculty members (lectures and assistant professors) to be “non-permanent staff”: that would prevent them from getting university pensions and retirement bonuses.
As a result of the post-2013 parliamentary legislation that froze all new hires in Cyprus’ public sector no new faculty members were hired. Moreover, the 2013 parliamentary decision froze all promotion proceedings. Scores of academics were either deprived of their right to ask for promotion or had their promotion proceedings postponed. For junior academics without tenure (i.e. lectures and assistant professors) the result is nothing sort of having their own lives suspended. The ability to voice their opinions openly has been limited; as job insecurity leads to excessive caution.
The post-2013 EU-imposed austerity program, promptly implemented by Cyprus’ conservative administration, has been at the root of the most of these negative effects. It is uncertain whether the effects of these policies will be reversed, if ever. The public universities’ budget has been ruthlessly slashed, leading to grave and extensive difficulties for researchers who rely on their individual research and travel accounts for attending conferences or paying for related publication and research expenses. The cumulative effect of legislation and salary cuts prompted tens of faculty members to ask for unpaid leave of absence in order to obtain permanent or temporary employment elsewhere. As a result of the hiring freeze and the faculty’s exodus, the total number of academics working in Cyprus’ public universities has declined, and junior academics increasingly have to look elsewhere for employment opportunities.